By: Julie Macfarlane. Published by: National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP) (Canada) Canadian Forum on Civil Justice. Published in May 2013.
The goal of this qualitative study was to develop data on the experience of self-represented litigants (SRLs) in three Canadian provinces: Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. Field sites in each province were used as primary data collection points, but SRL respondents also came via social media and from all over each province. In addition, service providers (court staff, duty counsel, pro bono lawyers, staff in community agencies working with SRL’s) were included in the sample. Most respondents (almost 90% of SRL’s and 100% of service providers) participated in an in‐depth personal interview; the remaining 10% of SRL’s participated in a focus group.
86% of self-represented litigants sought legal counsel but were unable to secure it for financial or other reasons. Self-represented litigants found it difficult when they were seen by different judges because they had to reestablish credibility with each new judge. The few who saw one judge for the entirety of their cases were much more satisfied with the experience. Court forms are too difficult and confusing for the average litigant to fill out without a lawyer and vary too much between geographical locations.
Many of the self-help resources available are online and rely on a litigant’s access to the internet; online resources do not meet the level of help that self-represented litigants need. Expanding legal information services to help self-represented litigants will reduce court costs for the litigants and free up the backlog in the system, by “getting it right” the first time.
The morale of the court system can be improved by developing low cost support services for self-represented litigants, which takes pressure off of non-legal professional court staff. Many self-represented litigants are not offered mediation or do not know what mediation is. Others were hesitant about mediation because of concerns over fairness when the opposing side was represented by a lawyer.